Background Photoallergic contact dermatitis can be difficult to diagnose if not appropriately investigated. Currently, the most common U.K. photoallergens appear to be sunscreen chemicals. The investigation of choice is photopatch testing (PPT), which is probably underused. In part, this is due to differences in methodology and results interpretation.
Objectives To conduct PPT using a group of sunscreen chemicals, defined indications and a standardized methodology including interpretation and relevance of reactions in patients attending for investigation at 17 centres across the U.K., Ireland and the Netherlands.
Methods Patients (n = 1155) who fulfilled the inclusion criteria were investigated with PPT using sunscreen chemicals in addition to suspected topical products. Readings were taken at 24, 48 and 72 h following standardized ultraviolet A irradiation (5 J cm−2). The clinical relevance of any reaction was recorded.
Results Of the 1155, 130 had allergic reactions (11·3%). Of these, 51 had photoallergy (PA) (4·4%), 64 had contact allergy (CA) (5·5%), and 15 patients had combined PA and CA (1·3%). Multiple PA was seen in some. The most common photoallergen was benzophenone-3 (27 reactions; 21%). Most reactions (60%) were clinically relevant. The most common indication for testing in patients found to have PA was a history of reacting to a sunscreen (41%). The other 59% had an exposed-site dermatitis/skin problem or a photodermatosis. Some centres (n = 8) performed readings after the standard 48-h reading, and an extra 32 PA and 22 CA reactions were detected, which were not evident at 48 h. A new photoallergen (octyl triazone) was detected in two patients.
Conclusions Sunscreen PA and CA are probably equally uncommon. Most reactions, of both reaction types, were relevant clinically. A large proportion of patients (59%) found to have PA was unaware of reacting to a sunscreen chemical, suggesting that PA should be considered as an explanation in any exposed-site dermatitis. Although this study focused on reactions at 48 h postirradiation, readings performed up to 96 h, while inconvenient, add value by detecting additional relevant responses. A previously unknown photoallergen was found, highlighting the need for awareness of novel photoallergens in the marketplace. A standardized PPT method not only encourages more use of this investigation, but also facilitates comparison of results between centres and so will improve our understanding of PA.